Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com
While the Bruno Caboclo trade from the Raptors’ perspective, sadly, meant little more in the end than salary cap juggling, it provided another massive shake-up to the 905 in a season full of them. Early in the season, Edy Tavares and Kyle Wiltjer left the almost-entirely new roster for higher-paying gigs in Europe. Kaza Keane and Kennedy Meeks missed time to play for Canada’s and the USA’s FIBA rosters, respectively. Lorenzo Brown has missed time due to injury. Throughout the turmoil, Bruno Caboclo has been a sorely-needed source of stability. Now he’s gone.
This isn’t a eulogy to Caboclo’s Raptor tenure, as that has been written many times, and many times better than I’m able. Here is a terrific one from Blake. Instead, this will be a look at what the Bruno trade means for the 905. How will the team cope with his loss? To whom will his minutes and shots go? Let’s look at the two post-Bruno games, with a focus on Tuesday’s home game against the Maine Red Claws.
The first post-Bruno game was a breeze. The 905 walloped the Lakeland Magic behind the now-expected dominance of Brown, Meeks, and more. Malcolm Miller stepped into Bruno’s starting spot, and Kuran Iverson played more minutes as a bench wing. In the second game against the Maine Red Claws, the 905 won despite losing Lorenzo Brown in the 1st to an ankle injury. Iverson will be relied upon for more minutes in this post-Bruno world.
Coach Stackhouse told Iverson that his time would be coming: “I told [Kuran] that, the other day: I’ve never seen it happen where a guy didn’t get an opportunity during a season. And this is his opportunity to step up and play some minutes for us.”
For his part, Iverson knows that this is his chance. He’s not going to waste it, and he’s aware that defence is the path to earning both his coach’s love and the playing time that goes along with it: “It’s my time to step up. It doesn’t matter if I’m getting 5 minutes, 4 minutes, 10, just do whatever it takes to stay out there. My defence helps me a lot, being able to be so athletic and versatile on the court, so I’m just trying to do whatever every night.”
It’s important that Iverson discusses defence in regards to replacing Bruno, because Caboclo’s defence in particular is difficult to mimic. Iverson is tall at 6’9 and long to boot, but Caboclo is a legitimate 7-footer with a longer wingspan than Anthony Davis. Caboclo’s defence has improved dramatically over the last few years as a 905er, both on- and off- ball. He’s averaging 1.3 steals a game and leading the team in blocks, at 1.6 per. Iverson wants to surpass those block numbers, but he knows that’s not his job: “I’m just trying to play my role, you know, I’m not trying to go outside the box. I know I can do other things, but I’ma do whatever coach tells me.”
Instead of blocking shots and picking off errant passes, Iverson knows his job is to stay within the defensive scheme. On more than one occasion, he smothered smaller wings and even guards after switches during the February 12th matchup with the Red Claws. To rotate without over-extending oneself, to pressure passing lanes without gambling: these are the skills that make an impactful defender.
And being able to stay within the scheme is important. Replacing Caboclo with shorter-armed defenders carries, of course, the negative that Bruno’s all-G-League defensive disruption skills cannot be replicated by anyone in the G-League. But Stackhouse mentioned the positives as well: “Bruno, for as much positives as he did with his length, and changing things defensively, getting his hands on balls, he did make some mistakes in our schemes. And I think that we may have a few less mistakes in our schemes.”
Of course, Iverson can still block shots with the best of them. Against the Red Claws, he finished with 2 blocked shots, one of which came as he ascended as the help defender, reaching his entire length towards the layup attempt. He only grazed the ball with his fingertips, deflecting it inches from its target. His 2 blocked shots (in 16 minutes) surpassed Caboclo’s season average of 1.6.
On offence, replacing Caboclo is somewhat simpler. For the 905, he served as a big who stretched the floor, attempting a team-high 7.0 3s per game. The problem was that despite occasional hot nights, he only connected on 33.5% of them. Malcolm Miller (38.4% from deep) will take many of Caboclo’s shots for the 905 starters, and Stack is excited by the prospect. When discussing who would take the 3s that Caboclo hoisted for the team, I asked Stack if Iverson’s attempts would increase dramatically. Stack hoped not: “No, absolutely not. Absolutely not. He’s a good facilitator and a playmaker, so I think we’re gonna make sure that we keep him in his wheelhouse. I wouldn’t mind Malcolm taking [Caboclo’s 3s].”
Miller, for his part, is ready for the increased playmaking burden. Late in the first quarter against Maine, he drove middle and drew help defenders before delivering a gorgeous wraparound pass to Shevon Thompson for an easy dunk. The touch, vision, and athleticism displayed by the play was rarely exhibited by Bruno’s frequent, but not always successful, drives to his left. As a shooter, Miller is ready for whatever number of shots come his way: “If it happens to be 10 [attempted 3s] that night, it’s 10. If it happens to be 4, [it’s 4]. But I’m just trying to read the close-outs, whatever the defence gives me. So, I mean, I believe in my shot, so if I’m taking 10 of them, hopefully I’m making 6, 7 of them.”
The goal is to replace Caboclo by committee. Not just Iverson will be tasked with extra minutes, but every wing will play a little more. Fuquan Edwin – away from the team on the 12th – will play a few more minutes and fire a few more shots. Malcolm Miller is starting as the power forward, but Alfonzo McKinnie is equally capable of playing a few minutes at the position. He’s long and strong and can dunk like few others.
It’s worth mentioning Malachi Richardson at this point. He’s another big body, at 6’6, who Stackhouse mentioned could play the power forward once he’s more comfortable with the 905’s defensive schemes. He started as the 905’s shooting guard against Maine, his first game with the club; however, his position, like Miller’s and McKinnie’s, is fluid. Though he struggled in his first game, he has a sweet shooting stroke and touch in the paint. If he can put it together to dominate in the G-League, the 905 may not need a village of effort from the rest of the roster to replace Caboclo. That Richardson can replace Caboclo’s production alone is not a given, and the team is comfortable knowing that they have the tools to compete for a championship with or without Richardson. He is one more weapon, just like Caboclo was.
For now, Stackhouse is happy to empower his players to broaden their horizons and improve their games. He is ever a players’ coach. In the final quarter of a close game against Maine, Iverson launched a step-back 3 that missed the rim by a few feet. I expected Stackhouse to criticize Iverson for it, but he didn’t: “No, no no no [I wasn’t upset about that shot]. We give our guys some freedom to get their game off, so to speak, and I thought he had an opportunity to get his game off right there… I watched him work on his game… So when [he] got an opportunity to come out here and showcase it, I’m never one to complain about shots within the rhythm of what we do.” Iverson finished 1 for 2 from distance on the game.
Even if the 905 are equipped for success without Caboclo, the bright lights of Mississauga seem a little dimmer with the Brazilian gone. The game against Maine marked the first home game without Caboclo employed by Toronto. His presence no longer informs the direction of the 905. In a league populated by players who strive to play elsewhere, transition is customary. The G-League is, by definition, ephemeral. Conversely, Caboclo played in the league for so long that he was an institution, representing continuity and stability for the Toronto franchise. He’s now departed, but the 905 are only looking forward, confident that the players on their roster remain enough to repeat as champions.